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Flu Outbreak Strains Hospitals, Puts Latinos Most At Risk

Paige Brettingen |
January 10, 2013 | 10:25 a.m. PST

Executive Producer

Flu shots are still being encouraged (Creative Commons)
Flu shots are still being encouraged (Creative Commons)

As the flu outbreak surges through Boston, where it is being considered a public health emergency, the director of Boston public health commission has said that the emergency was declared in part "to get residents' attention" and that "the the 700 confirmed cases represent only those reported to the city and that thousands of other people may be ill." Those 700 cases have brought some alarm considering there were 70 cases during the last flu season.

Among those most at risk, according to Fox News, are Latinos. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that last flu season, only 39.1 percent of Latino adults received the shot, compared to 49.1 percent of non-Hispanic Whites.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has been encouraging residents that it is not too late to get the flu shot and the city has begun administering them free of charge. The CDC has estimated that 37 percent of Americans have been vaccinated this year which is considered average, according to CBS.

Yet a flu shot isn't necessarily full proof.

SEE ALSO: Flu Season Causing Widespread National Epidemic

"No vaccine is 100 percent effective," said Kevin Cranston, head of the state bureau of infectious diseases to Fox News. Cranston added that some people, for example, might be vaccinated but get the flu in the 10 days to two weeks it takes for the immunity to take hold.

CBS News reported that the vaccine has only been about 60 to 70 percent effective in recent years. Though this year's vaccine is more "well matched" than past years, one strain in particular seems to be the culprit.

"There is an influenza B strain that's out there, an additional strain that's causing about 10 percent of the mischief," said Dr. William Shaffner, an infectious disease researcher at Vanderbilt University who served on the committee that decided what went into the vaccine, to CBS Evening News. "And that's not in the vaccine and that accounts for some of the influenza that's out there."

Other cities besides Boston have been struggling to meet the influx of influenza patients. The Chicago Tribune reported that 11 Illinois hospitals have been on "by-pass" status, meaning they could not handle any more patients who didn't have life-threatening illnesses and that four to eight hospitals in the state were on by-pass at any point on Tuesday:

  • "We are seeing a ton of influenza cases," said Dr. Emily Landon, epidemiologist at the medical center. "Our hospital is incredibly busy."
  • The spate of diversions is the latest evidence of what doctors have called the earliest and most active flu season since the turn of the millennium.

SEE ALSO: Foods To Get Rid of Cold and Flu Viruses

Yet, though the flu strain has created more hospitalizations than past strains, Landon also told The Chicago Tribune that the situation was not as dire as it may seem.

"This is not an apocalypse situation here," she said. "It's a really busy time in the hospital, and it's always a really busy time in the hospital in the winter."

According to The Chicago Tribune, the CDC has listed 29 states as of Friday that are experiencing "high flu" activity. As of Wednesday, 44 U.S. states have declared "widespread flu activity," CBS News reported.

Besides getting a vaccination, CBS News shared that other ways to protect oneself from the flu include "maintaining proper hygiene with everyday actions such washing hands with soap and water, avoiding close contact with sick people, and keeping your hands out of your eyes, nose and mouth could reduce risk."

[View the story "Pandemic Pandemonium" on Storify]

Find more Neon Tommy coverage on the flu season here.

Reach Executive Producer Paige Brettingen here. Follow her here.



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